Sunday, March 11, 2018

Cape Verde: The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araujo, by Germano Almeida

I knew little about the Cape Verde Islands before reading this book, apart from the fact that I have a CD of songs by the "barefoot diva" Cesaria Evora, who comes from there. It turns out that the islands are somewhat different to the rest of Africa. They were uninhabited until discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century. It was ideally situated for the Atlantic slave trade, and its modern population has a mixture of Portuguese, Moorish, Arab and African heritage.

This was an easily readable book. The title character has been single all his life,a comfortably off business man and appeared to be a model of rectitude. But when he dies, he leaves a will of some three hundred pages, which reveals his life story, including the existence of an illegitimate daughter. This is rather unwelcome news to his nephew, who had expected to inherit his uncle's estate.

As the book proceeds, the daughter, Maria da Graca, and nephew Carlos, gradually learn more of their uncle's life, along with the reader. It is a rich picture of a life. The blurb suggests that the book moves along a blurry line between farce and tragedy. But one thing made me uncomfortable about this book - the description of the conception of Maria da Graca. Despite her mother saying "it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't wanted it", the description suggests that she had little choice in the matter, in fact it was uncomfortably close to a rape scene between an employer and a powerless employee. The book was originally written in 1991, and perhaps it didn't seem a problem then, but today this scene is disturbing.

The book was translated from the Portuguese by Sheila Faria Glaser and published by New Directions in 2004

No comments: